Thursday, May 26, 2011

St. Paul Mayor Offers to Trade Vikings Back to Minneapolis for Timberwolves, Lynx

Chris Coleman is the mayor of St. Paul, the largest city in Ramsey County.

Keep that in mind when reading the latest developments in the Vikings stadium saga.

Coleman was conspicuous by his silence as the Vikings announced their deal with the county to build a new stadium in Arden Hills, a suburb of the Twin Cities. The deal calls for a sales tax in Ramsey County to help fund the facility's costs.

The majority of people who are keeping tabs on this drama took his silence as some sort of odd opposition to the plan.

Wednesday, Coleman confirmed those suspicions. Not only did he make clear he didn't like the plan the Vikings are pushing, but he offered a rather ... um, interesting? ... plan of his own.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman floated a jumbo-sized plan Wednesday that would address Minnesota's stadium dilemma with a new statewide tax of 2 cents per alcoholic drink while keeping the Vikings in Minneapolis and moving pro basketball to St. Paul.

Coleman said his plan would raise $48 million a year for sports facilities. He said a Vikings plan to move to Ramsey County doesn't make sense; his plan would not move the team but send the Timberwolves and the Lynx to St. Paul to share the Xcel Energy Center with the Wild. Target Center in downtown Minneapolis would become a practice facility.

Coleman also would use the per-drink tax at bars and restaurants to build a St. Paul Saints ballpark in Lowertown and upgrade recreation facilities throughout the state.

In essence, Coleman just offered to trade the Vikings to Minneapolis for the NBA's Timberwolves and WNBA's Lynx.

Of course, this isn't really what Coleman is trying to do.

Coleman said he was trying to end competition between the Xcel and Target Center for tax subsidies and concerts. "My primary concern is there not be additional taxpayer investment [in Target Center] because it just exacerbates the competition," he said.

And Minneapolis not jumping at this idea shouldn't be taken as a sign they don't want the Vikings back. There's more meaning to it than that.

Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson said that as much as the city wants the Vikings to stay, she called it "ridiculous'' to give up Target Center. "It provides us with events many, many times a year, many more than the Vikings playing at the Metrodome,'' she said. "We're a big enough metro to support two" arenas.

Despite the fact that this plan seems absolutely bizonkers, it might actually have some traction.

The mayor was smart on a couple fronts. First, he made this a statewide tax, appealing to those in Duluth and Hinckley and Virginia and Two Harbors and International Falls and St. Cloud and Mankato and other places in this great state that love the Vikings, Wild, Timberwolves, and Lynx, and want them to play in top-notch facilities.

It also throws a bone to those who don't care what kind of facilities the state's pro teams play in, by adding the provision that uses some of this money to build and upgrade recreation facilities in the state to help kids find places to play. There's a sales tax increase in St. Paul thrown in to help with bond payments and libraries.

The Wild played the nice guy, issuing a statement welcoming the idea of sharing the XCel Energy Center.

This proposal from Mayor Coleman, for the Xcel Energy Center to host the Timberwolves and Lynx, is a new idea in this discussion. It is certainly possible from a facility standpoint.  Multiple tenants in one building is common and is the case in most major markets around the country including Dallas, Denver, Chicago, and Los Angeles, where the Staples Center hosts three major league sports teams. While we haven’t discussed this idea with the Timberwolves, we would be happy to do so if the Wolves were interested in discussing this proposal.

Over the past few years, the Wild has developed plans for building improvements to keep the Xcel Energy Center a state of the art facility, including a multi-level expansion on the building’s north side. We have also supported the City of St. Paul’s work to build an Amateur Sports Center of Excellence on 7th Street across from the arena, which could also be used as a practice facility for the Wild.  Those existing plans could easily be modified to accommodate the needs of the Timberwolves and Lynx, including additional locker rooms, lower bowl modifications and additional retail and office space should the Wolves and Lynx decide to move to St. Paul.

In the end, Coleman is arguing that the Twin Cities aren't big enough for both Target Center and the XCel Energy Center. He's also saying that there isn't anywhere in St. Paul to host a Vikings stadium, and he believes the Arden Hills location benefits other locations outside Ramsey County more than it would the county or the city of St. Paul.

The Vikings want no part of Coleman's plan, but in the end, the Legislature gets to have a say in this, too. We'll see in the coming days how politicians react to this proposal, and how the citizens react. Those are probably more significant moving forward than how the Vikings feel.

You have to understand the team's perspective. They have a sweetheart deal with Ramsey County, and they don't want to cede any of the perks or control they're being given in order to back one of these other proposals.

It sounds selfish, but it's part of negotiating. When you get something you want, you don't offer to give it up.

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